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June 13, 1996: Freemen Surrender Peacefully

A distant shot of the Freemen compound. Reporters were not given much access to the area, and photographs of the area and the participants in the standoff are limited.A distant shot of the Freemen compound. Reporters were not given much access to the area, and photographs of the area and the participants in the standoff are limited. [Source: CNN]The besieged Montana Freemen (see March 25, 1996) surrender peacefully to federal authorities. Officials credit Freemen leader Edwin Clark (see June 11, 1996) with playing a key role in negotiating the surrender. [Billings Gazette, 3/25/2006] The New York Times writes that the siege ends “so peacefully that the surrender [does] not even disturb the cows grazing at the group’s remote Montana ranch.” Local postal carrier and rancher Ruth Coulter exclaims after the surrender: “My God, it’s finally over! And nobody got killed! Wonderful. Wonderful!” [New York Times, 6/14/1996]
16 Freemen Surrender - CNN identifies 16 people still inside the compound: Ralph Clark (see 1980s-1994), the elderly leader of the Clark family and one of the group’s leaders; Clark’s wife Kay; Clark’s brother Emmett Clark, the actual former owner of the 960-acre wheat farm occupied by the Freemen and dubbed “Justus Township” (see September 28, 1995 and After); Emmett Clark’s wife Rosie; Ralph Clark’s son Edwin; Edwin Clark’s son Casey Clark; Rodney Skurdal, a founder of the group (see 1983-1995); Russell Dean Landers, one of the leaders of the group and a member of a North Carolina anti-government, anti-tax group called “Civil Rights Task Force”; Dana Dudley Landers, Landers’s common-law wife, a fugitive from federal and state charges, and a member of the “Civil Rights Task Force”; Dale Jacobi, a former Canadian policemen; Steven Hance, who faces state charges from North Carolina; Hance’s sons John Hance and James Hance; Cherlyn Petersen, the wife of arrested Freemen member Daniel Petersen; Casey Valheimer; and Barry Nelson, who with another man entered the ranch after eluding blockades (see March 25 - April 1, 1996). [CNN, 6/12/1996] The surrender is peaceful; the Freemen drive to the ranch gates in cars, trucks, and a Winnebago motor home. They gather in a quiet circle for a final prayer. Then Edwin Clark approaches an agent and shakes hands. Finally, in pairs escorted by Clark, they surrender to waiting agents, who ease them into passenger vans. Clark is the last one to enter custody. Fourteen of the Freemen are taken to the Yellowstone County jail in Billings, 175 miles away from Jordan. Two, Kay Clark and Rosie Clark, face no charges and are not jailed, though the FBI says they will not be allowed to return to the compound. After hearing of the surrender, President Clinton tells guests at a state dinner, “We will all say a little prayer tonight for this peaceful settlement.” [Los Angeles Times, 6/14/1996]
FBI Director 'Obviously Relieved' - FBI Director Louis Freeh, described by the Los Angeles Times as “obviously relieved,” says the FBI “put patience above the risk of bloodshed” to end the standoff. He says the bureau “made no deals to drop or lessen the federal charges” against any of the Freemen in order to precipitate the surrender. Of critics who called for quicker and perhaps more “tactical” solutions, Freeh says: “I understand their impatience. But it was essential that we followed our established crisis management procedures.” He says the standoff proves the worth of the new crisis response plans implemented after the tragedies in Ruby Ridge, Idaho (see August 31, 1992), and Waco, Texas (see April 19, 1993). This time, the bureau used “a fundamentally different approach” that “may not always work, but it worked here.” Giving negotiators more influence during the standoff did cause some “disagreements” and “friction” within the FBI, Freeh acknowledges, but it was the right decision to make. Deputy Attorney General Jamie Gorelick says “[t]he tactical option was always on the table.” Freeh notes that as the standoff wore on, the Freemen gained a certain level of reluctant trust in the bureau. “We never broke a promise to them,” he says, and “we told them before things happened,” such as cutting off electrical power (see June 3, 1996). [Los Angeles Times, 6/15/1996]
Outreach to Rightist Figures, Low-Key Techniques Brought Successful Resolution - FBI agents credit help they received from militia members in helping to resolve the standoff, along with the new, more low-key techniques of handling such confrontations now being used by the bureau. “Overall, our approach was to find a balance between negotiations and other lawful means,” says FBI agent Ron VanVranken, who took part in the final settlement negotiations. “We recognized it would be prudent and beneficial to use the services of third-party intermediaries and to be constantly soliciting the advice of outside experts.” Freeh says he was supportive of the decision to use third-party negotiators who hold similar anti-government views to those of the Freemen: “I think that, given all the other cumulative steps over the last 81 days, that that helped persuade the remaining subjects to finally come out of the compound.” The Los Angeles Times says that the FBI’s strategy of reaching out to far-right figures may have had an added benefit of creating dissension among rightist groups (see March 25 - April 1, 1996) and avoiding a “united front” of opposition that might have helped strengthen the Freemen’s resolve to continue holding out. “It was probably a wise move that the Freemen came out, as opposed to being burned out or shot,” says Clay Douglas, publisher of the far-right Free American newspaper and a leading member of the “Patriot” movement. “And it’s an election year, so the FBI had to be good.” However, the FBI’s decision to use “Patriot” negotiators “was pretty smart on their part. It has divided a lot of patriots. A lot of people thought they were being traitors for going in and trying to talk them out. Some people side with the Freemen. Some people side with the ‘Patriot’ leaders. So it’s just another small part of how the government keeps America divided. It’s called gradualism. They keep gradually encroaching on our freedoms.” The FBI brought in militia leaders James “Bo” Gritz and Jack McLamb (see April 27, 1996), Colorado State Senator Charles Duke, a rightist sympathizer (see May 15-21, 1996), and white supremacist lawyer Kirk Lyons (see June 11, 1996); even though most of their attempts at negotiations failed, it served to build a “bridge” between the FBI and the Freemen. Another technique was to promote Edwin Clark, the Freeman the FBI considered the most likely to leave the compound, as a leader in the absence of arrested Freemen LeRoy Schweitzer and Daniel Petersen (see March 25, 1996). The final element was the introduction of Lyons, who was contacted three weeks ago by FBI agents and asked for a plan to negotiate with the Freemen. Lyons’s colleague Neill Payne says somewhat incredulously, “It is to Director Freeh’s credit that he was broad-minded enough to go along with a crazy scheme like ours.” [Los Angeles Times, 6/15/1996]

The Yellowstone County Courthouse in Billings, Montana, where the 14 Freemen are arraigned.The Yellowstone County Courthouse in Billings, Montana, where the 14 Freemen are arraigned. [Source: Civic Images (.com)]A group of 14 Montana Freemen make their first court appearance after surrending to federal authorities (see June 13, 1996). The 14 Freemen being processed are: Casey Clark, Edwin Clark, Emmett Clark, Ralph Clark, James Hance, John Hance, Steven Hance, Dale Jacobi, Dana Dudley Landers, Russell Dean Landers, Barry Nelson, Cherlyn Petersen, Rodney Skurdal, and Casey Valheimer. The elderly wives of two of the Freemen, Kay Clark and Rosie Clark, face no criminal charges. The Freemen in court are defiant and disruptive. Most of them object to the proceedings and refuse to acknowledge the charges being brought against them. Some of them refuse to acknowledge their names; when Magistrate Robert Holter asks Skurdal his name and explains that he wants to ensure that he is the right person, Skurdal retorts, “I object to your calling me a person, your honor.” Dana Landers responds to a similar question by reciting: “I am a Christian. My flag is red, white, and blue; it’s an American flag. The Holy Scriptures are my law. I’m not familiar with your tribunals.” Each demands their right to “effective counsel,” meaning that they should be able to choose their own lawyers but the court must pay for them. Many object to their names being spelled with all capital letters, as is common in legal briefs. One male Freeman requires physical restraint. Holter refuses to hear their arguments that their own alternative government’s rules must apply over those of the federal legal system. Working through a barrage of shouts, imprecations, and recitations, Holter assigns them lawyers over their objections, and sets arraignment and bond hearings. [CNN, 6/12/1996; New York Times, 6/14/1996; Los Angeles Times, 6/15/1996] New York Times reporter Carey Goldberg writes: “When they appeared in court on Friday, and rejected everything from the American flag to the capital letters in their names, the 14 newly surrendered Freemen laid bare, in word and posture, the central spirit of the anti-government group that held off federal agents for 81 days. It was a culture of collective denial. Each member came from a different set of circumstances, but the freedom they sought was freedom from American reality.… [W]hat united them was the ideological structure they built, in which the debts they owed were nullified, the criminal charges against them were invalid, and their position in society was considered supreme.” [New York Times, 6/15/1996]

Entity Tags: Dale Jacobi, Cherlyn Bronson Petersen, Steven Hance, Casey Clark, Carey Goldberg, Barry Nelson, Rosie Clark, Rodney Owen Skurdal, Russell Dean Landers, Ralph Clark, Emmett Clark, Edwin Clark, Dana Dudley Landers, James Hance, Robert Holter, Montana Freemen, John Hance, Casey Valheimer, Kay Clark

Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism

As a federal court in Billings, Montana, formally charges nine Montana Freemen with a variety of crimes (see 1993-1994, March 25, 1996, June 13, 1996, and June 14, 1996), the defendants repeatedly interrupt the proceedings with shouts, curses, and threats. They challenge everything from the flag displayed behind the judge to his jurisdiction over the case, refuse to answer questions from the bench and their own lawyers (one demands that his lawyer be jailed), shout a variety of curses and garbled Latin phrases, and denounce “this kangaroo court.” Before the hearing, defendant Dale Jacobi sprained his thumb resisting fingerprinting. Another defendant, Steven Hance, shouts at US Magistrate Richard Anderson after being ejected from the courtroom, “You’re going down, son.” Prosecutor James Seykora asks the court to hold Hance in contempt, and Hance shouts: “Contempt? That’s not a strong enough word.” The Freemen refuse to participate in the hearing; Anderson denies bail for the nine and enters pleas of “not guilty” on their behalf. [Los Angeles Times, 6/26/1996; New York Times, 7/27/1996]

Entity Tags: Steven Hance, Dale Jacobi, Montana Freemen, James Seykora, Richard Anderson

Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism

The New York Times publishes an overview of the ongoing criminal trials of the Montana Freemen (see 1993-1994, March 25, 1996, June 13, 1996, and March 16, 1998 and After), and calls the proceedings “an absurdist drama that could be called Alice in Wonderland on the Yellowstone River.” Freemen leader LeRoy Schweitzer, indicted for multiple counts of civil fraud and threatening federal officials (see March 26, 1996), recently announced himself as “Supreme Court Justice LeRoy Michael” in a court hearing, and told the judge: “Supreme court is in session. You are removed from the bench under impeachment.” Most of the Freemen are refusing to cooperate with either the court officials or their own defense lawyers; some of them had to be compelled to give fingerprints and be photographed for booking. Defendant Daniel Petersen, indicted along with Schweitzer and a third Freeman, Rodney Skurdal, disrupted a recent proceeding by shouting that the “Supreme Court of Yellowstone County” was now in session, and yelled at the judge and prosecution, “I’m charging all of you with misprison of treason and misprison of felony.” Defendant Steven Hance (see June 14, 1996) told one judge, “I am above the Constitution,” called the judge “an outlaw,” and informed him, “You are out of order.” Hance’s two sons, James Hance and John Hance, answered their indictments by belching at the judge; James Hance told the judge: “You’re going to be impeached. How are you going to feel about that?” and his brother added: “You’d better start obeying the law, sir. You’re incompetent.” Another defendant, Dale Jacobi, accused the judge of holding “blood sacrifices.” During a North Carolina trial of one Freeman, Russell Landers, the judge at that trial ordered Landers—defending himself—to cease his rambling opening statement, threw him out of the courtroom, and had him watch his trial by closed-circuit television; in his turn, Landers claimed he was being held hostage by a foreign power and accused the judge of wearing a black robe to disguise his real identity as “a Roman tribunal.” One judge, Charles Lovell, recently said that Schweitzer has “no business in the courtroom unless he is chained and taped,” and banned him from the courtroom. The defendants are routinely expelled from the courtroom for their antics. They call themselves “white Christian men” who are, by definition, “sovereign American naturals” and therefore not subject to United States laws and courts. They hold that their system of “common law” (see Fall 2010) places them above the “ordinary” American judicial system. The judges have uniformly ignored the Freemen’s arcane legal claims, which the New York Times calls “a salad of the Uniform Commercial Code, the Magna Carta, biblical admonitions, and meaningless Latin phrases.” Lovell called Schweitzer’s legal defense “nonsensical” and added, “This is preposterous, absolutely preposterous—it has no more bearing in law than an ounce of sand.” The Montana Supreme Court threw out 37 pages of Freemen court documents as “nonsensical filings,” and another judge called a Freeman’s legal arguments “bunkum.” While similar trials of right-wing militia figures have drawn numerous protesters agitating on behalf of the defendants, the Freemen are drawing a vanishingly small number of supporters; “sympathizers are rare, and protest placards have not been seen in more than nine months,” the Times observes. [New York Times, 3/25/1997]

Entity Tags: Montana Freemen, Dale Jacobi, Charles C. Lovell, James Hance, LeRoy Schweitzer, Montana Supreme Court, New York Times, Steven Hance, Rodney Owen Skurdal, Russell Dean Landers, John Hance

Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism

Six Montana Freemen (see 1993-1994, March 25, 1996, and June 13, 1996) are tried in a district court in Billings, Montana, accused of being accessories to helping fugitives avoid arrest during the FBI siege of the Freemen compound. Four Freemen will be ejected from the courtroom for being disruptive during the trial; the four attempt to derail the proceedings by cursing and screaming. All six Freemen have refused to participate in their defense, rejected their court-appointed counsels, and refused to dress themselves for the trial. “It’s a difficult trial to get prepared for,” says Lisa Swanson, who represents defendant James Hance. “He won’t talk to me. The only way he would talk with me is if I would denounce my membership in the American Bar Association.” Three are dragged in and out of the courtroom after refusing to walk, and one is transported in a wheelchair. As they are taken into the courtroom, they yell “non-assumptus,” their term for their claim that the judge has no authority over them. Another defendant, Steven Hance, yells at the presiding judge, “Let the record show I’m placing you under arrest,” and curses him. Hance then knocks over a chair and tries to knock over a computer monitor. A third defendant, James Hance, curses the US Attorney prosecuting the case, Sherry Matteucci. [New York Times, 3/16/1998; Los Angeles Times, 4/1/1998; Billings Gazette, 3/25/2006] Five of the defendants will be convicted (see March 31, 1998).

Entity Tags: Montana Freemen, James Hance, Lisa Swanson, Sherry Matteucci, Steven Hance

Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism

Five Montana Freemen (see 1993-1994, March 25, 1996, and June 13, 1996) are convicted of serving as accessories to helping other Freemen escape arrest during the 81-day standoff (see March 16, 1998 and After). Steven Hance and his two sons, James and John Hance, are convicted of being accessories and for being fugitives in possession of firearms. Barry Nelson, who joined the Freemen during the standoff (see March 25 - April 1, 1996), is convicted of being an accessory. Elwin Ward is acquitted of accessory charges, but found guilty of submitting a false claim to the Internal Revenue Service. Edwin Clark is acquitted of all charges. [New York Times, 4/1/1998; Billings Gazette, 3/25/2006] The Hances and Nelson will receive lengthy jail sentences (see June 6, 1998).

Entity Tags: Elwin Ward, Barry Nelson, Edwin Clark, James Hance, John Hance, Steven Hance, Montana Freemen

Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism

Four members of the Montana Freemen (see 1993-1994) are forcibly wheeled into court in wheelchairs after refusing to come to court under their own power, and are sentenced to prison for their part in the group’s standoff with the FBI (see March 25, 1996 and March 31, 1998). US District Judge John C. Coughenour sentences Steven Hance to 78 months in jail. Hance interrupts the proceedings with shouts that he is not a US citizen and not subject to the jurisdiction of the court. Barry Nelson receives 71 months. John Hance receives 63 months. James Hance receives 67 months. Fellow Freeman Elwin Ward, who does not resist being brought to court, is released for time served. [Associated Press, 6/6/1998]

Entity Tags: John Hance, Barry Nelson, Elwin Ward, John C. Coughenour, Montana Freemen, Steven Hance, James Hance

Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism

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